MEXICO CITY (AP) - Confronting a Mexican drug war that is
"sowing chaos in our communities," President Barack Obama
signaled Thursday he will not seek renewal of a U.S. assault
weapons ban but instead will step up enforcement of laws banning
the transfer of such guns across the border.
Obama had pledged during his campaign to seek renewal of the ban
but has bowed to the reality that such a move would be unpopular in
politically key U.S. states and among Republicans as well as some
Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has been
conducting an aggressive fight against drug cartels and had hoped
to persuade Obama to push for reinstatement of the gun ban. Obama
arrived here on the first stop of a trip that will take him to a
weekend Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, bringing together the
leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere democracies.
Allies in the fight against drugs, Obama and Calderon took
different stands on U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Calderon said the
47-year-old U.S. trade embargo has not been successful in forcing
Cuba to adopt democratic reforms.
"I share fully the idea we do not believe that the embargo or
the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change in
Cuba," Calderon said. "On the contrary; the reality that we see
there is that the reality has not changed."
Obama pointed to the announcement this week that the U.S. was
softening sanctions, allowing Americans to make unlimited transfers
of money and visits to relatives in Cuba. But he said Cuba needs to
reciprocate with actions that are "grounded in respect for human
Cuban President Raul Castro, attending meetings in Venezuela,
said his government is willing to discuss "everything" with
Washington - including human rights, political prisoners and
freedom of the press - as long as the discussion is "on equal
terms." He did not specifically mention Obama's comments.
Obama acknowledged that the United States shares responsibility
for bloodshed and kidnappings in Mexico that have spilled across
the border into the United States. "I will not pretend this is
Mexico's responsibility alone," Obama said.
"We have a responsibility as well, we have to do our part,"
Obama said. He said the U.S. must crack down on domestic drug use
and the flow of weapons into Mexico.
Obama also said the United States and Mexico must work together
to stem the problem of illegal immigration. He said he favors a
more orderly process for immigrants who want to come to the United
States and a pathway to legalization for those already in the U.S.
"My country has been greatly enriched by immigrants from
Mexico," he said.
The two leaders also pledged to cooperate on combatting global
warming and the global recession.
The U.S. ban on military-style assault weapons became law during
the Clinton administration in 1994 and contributed to the
Democrats' loss of Congress that year. It expired under the Bush
administration in 2004. It had outlawed 19 types of weapons, banned
certain features on firearms such as bayonet mounts, and limited
ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
When Attorney General Eric Holder raised the idea of
reinstituting the ban this year, opposition from Democrats and
Republicans emerged quickly.
Calderon made more direction mention of the U.S. politics of the
matter than Obama did.
"We know that it is a politically delicate topic because
Americans truly appreciate their constitutional rights, and
particularly those that are part of the Second Amendment,"
Obama said he still believed that the ban "made sense" but
pointedly added: "None of us are under any illusion that
reinstating that ban would be easy." He said he would focus
instead on using existing laws to stop the flow of weapons to
Mexico from the thousands of U.S. gun stores along the border.
"Now, are we going to eliminate all drug flows, are we going to
eliminate all guns coming over the border?" Obama said. "That's
not a realistic objective. What is a realistic objective is to
reduce it so significantly, so drastically, that it becomes once
again a localized criminal problem as opposed to a major structural
problem that threatens stability in communities along those
Obama also sought to put a focus on the more upbeat parts of the
U.S.-Mexico relationship - such as shared commerce and culture -
and not just the drug violence and immigration spats.
It was a theme he returned to on Thursday night at a dinner in
his honor, held in an open-air courtyard of a Mexican museum.
"What makes us good neighbors is a simple truth, that our
people share so much more than common challenges and common
interests," Obama said. "We also share values and ideals."
Earlier, Calderon welcomed Obama to the presidential residence,
Los Pinos, with an acknowledgment of the challenges: "My country
is immersed in a historic transformation process. We live a robust
democracy, which is also plural. We're also facing firmly the costs
of the struggles in order to turn Mexico into a safer country."
Obama announced he would ask the Senate to ratify an
inter-American weapons treaty meant to take on the bloody drug
trade by restricting arms trafficking.
Just hours before Obama arrived in the country, a shootout
between Mexican troops and a convoy of gunmen left 15 assailants
and one soldier dead, Mexico's Defense Department said.
The Justice Department says Mexican drug trafficking
organizations represent the greatest organized crime threat to the
The Organization of American States adopted the weapons treaty
in 1997 as a way to curtail dealing in illicit firearms throughout
Latin America. Since then, 34 countries have signed the treaty, and
29 have ratified it. Former President Bill Clinton signed the
treaty on Nov. 14, 1997, one day after it was endorsed by the OAS,
but it was never acted on.
Calderon's aggressive stand against drug cartels has won him the
aid of the United States and the prominent political backing of
Mexico is the main hub for cocaine and other drugs entering the
U.S., and the United States is the primary source of guns used in
Mexico's drug-related killings.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Mexico in
drug-related violence since Calderon's stepped-up effort against
the cartels began in 2006. The State Department says contract
killings and kidnappings on U.S. soil, carried out by Mexican drug
cartels, are on the rise as well.
Obama has dispatched hundreds of federal agents, along with
high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, to the
Southwest to help Mexico fight drug cartels, among many other steps
aimed at addressing the escalating drug war.